twin peaks

Twin Peaks’ 2013 debut Sunken, issued by Aquarium Drunkard’s sister label Autumn Tone, was a tight, fuzzy blast of garage rock. It was a brief, but powerful, statement from a couple Chicago kids inching toward their twenties.

Wild Onion the band’s 2014 LP for Grand Jury, takes the promise of their first expands it outward. Originally conceived as a double album, that standard hallmark of lofty rock & roll ambition, a (barely) older and wiser Twin Peaks pared the selections down to 16 essential songs, crisscrossing blown-speaker verve with jangling pop, snotty attitude with lovelorn gazes.

“We had so many songs, we were having trouble pinpointing what we wanted to do, trying to narrow it down,” says Peaks’ guitarist/songwriter Cadien Lake James. “We were like, ‘Fuck it, we don’t have it narrowed down yet, that’s not who we are at this point.’ We’re just some dudes who like all sorts of rock & roll, and we span genres, and it just made more sense to put it all on the album. We tried to make it like a mixtape, where the songs could be very different, but flow together.”

Wild Onion indeed plays like an expertly-curated mixtape, with songwriters James, plus guitarist/singer Clay Frankel and bassist/singer Jack Dolan, and drummer Connor Brodner, cranking out cocksure jammers like “I Found a New Way,” and balancing them against chorus-laden dream ballads like “Strange World.” Not to be outdone, “Stranger World” layers synths and saxophone, right before giving way to classic a jangle pop stunner, “Telephone.” Despite the variety, and despite that fact that the songs are the result of three distinct songwriters, Wild Onion sounds remarkably cohesive, held together by energetic youthfulness and unceasing melodies.

“For us, what it always comes down to is it’s us playing the songs,” James says. “If we’re all playing together it’s going to sound like us. Because we dig each other’s songs, and we dig putting it all together.”

Citing acts like Exile-era Stones, the Oblivions, and Jay Reatard (James’ “favorite artist for a year or two”), the band struck a balance between cutting tracks live, to retain maximum energy, and layering and building compositions through overdubs, a tactic employed by inspirations like Tame Impala and Mac DeMarco.

“There were four of five tracks [including] ‘Flavor’ and ‘Sloop Jay D’ with all the instruments live,” James says. “But, growing up as someone who started recording to Garageband, always building stuff up from the bottom, that’s still sort of how I approach it. I’m intrigued by people who are doing it that way.”

Tellingly, the band traces its roots back to elementary school, and the though the band’s songwriters have begun to explore individual directions, they continue to draw on connections established early on.

“As much I don’t like being considered a pop-punk band…it’s something when you’re first getting into guitars in elementary school, that’s something that surrounds you,” James laughs. “As much as we’ve grown out of it, it shows itself if you really look deep. It’s like, ‘How can we be energetic and punk when we’re actually soft boys?’” James laughs, but Wild Onion suggests they’ve figured it out. words / j woodbury

Twin Peaks :: Good Lovin’

JoniGraham

Having last week seen Gone Girl back-to-back with another (far quieter, far more chilling, far superior) infidelity-noir, The Blue Room, I’ve been thinking a lot about contrasting points of view and conflicts of interpretation. In both these films, the drama is refracted through a he-said-she-said-they-said prism in which every perspective is revealed as partial, cluttered-over in prejudicial evidence. As an audience, the central challenge we are posed with is how to navigate these contradictory perspectives—especially when, like little detectives, what we want are facts, damnit. We are pushed by such narratives to decide whether our sympathies will tip one way or another.

Narrative songs, however, have a great way of avoiding this challenge because unlike plays or films, problems of perspective are in fact no problem at all. There’s something more immediately flexible about them. Within the same song, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ might be just as viable as ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.’ We all know we can sympathise equally well with both the singer and the sung-to in ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’  We don’t have to pick sides.

Take the classic example of ‘Jackson,’ popularized by both June Carter/Johnny Cash and Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra in 1967. ‘We got married in a fever,’ the couple sings together before giving divergent takes about what’s about to go down in Jackson Town. Lyrically, we’re kept on the fence, but hearing both protagonists out isn’t problematic. There’s no challenge in our having two differing points of view coexist or given the same amount of time in the spotlight.

When the parents offer their opinion during the Beatles’ ‘She’s Leaving Home,’ it might on the face of it, seem a moment for the villains of the story to chime-in. However, Lennon’s ghostly vocal reveals the way in which the entire song can be ‘read’ from the parent’s perspective and still lose none of its melancholy grandeur.  Tom Waits’ ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,’ is likewise exemplary in showing us how, within a song, our sympathies can be everywhere at once. Ostensibly a letter written from said hooker to an old lover named Charlie, we’re placed somewhere vaguely between the two of them: she’s writing, he’s presumably reading what she wrote. (Things are made even more indeterminate as her words are performed in the voice of Tom Waits.) Yet the abstraction has a democratizing effect: because we ultimately share the revelation that the writer has fictionalized the details of her letter (‘Charlie, for chrissakes, if you want to know the truth of it, I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone’), we are drawn closer to Charlie; because we can sympathise with the hooker’s desire to imagine a better life for herself, we’re at the same time drawn closer to her.

Something similar often occurs in songs that are historically and/or lyrically linked together. There are of course a whole plethora of ‘answer’ songs that re-imagine the point of view of an original. But one lesser known example is ‘Oh, Brother!’, Joan Baez’s answer to Bob Dylan’s ‘Oh, Sister’, which turns out to be far less hokey than it sounds. In fact, like any good rejoinder it doesn’t dismiss but re-informs—in Baez’s case, drawing our attention to all the women that have been simultaneously revered and steamrolled down the long dusty road of Dylan’s oeuvre. An even better example of this sort of reversal may be found in Baez’s own ‘Diamonds and Rust’ (arguably the best song she wrote), which isn’t an answer song per se, but a song that speaks directly to the existentially and romantically prevaricating figure that Dylan came to embody in his songs circa Blood on the Tracks. The imagery Baez is playing with is tangled up and familiar without ever being referential: phone booth, moon, blue eyes, leaves falling, crummy hotel. (You don’t have to be a Dylanologist to solve that equation.) Again, the effect is that of two songs, two perspectives, shadowing one another, adding extra depth and color.

What you might call an operatic effect (separate arias, same drama), is also in evidence on Graham Nash’s album, Songs for Beginners. In 1970, Nash received a telegram from his longtime girlfriend Joni Mitchell: ‘If you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers. Love, Joan.’ And at that point he says, he knew ‘it was truly over.’ She was in hanging out in Crete at the time, taking a breather from their relationship, writing songs—a period which would, of course, inform her first real masterpiece, Blue. Shortly after receiving the telegram, however, Nash sat down at the piano (some say that same afternoon) and wrote this:

Graham Nash :: Simple Man

Not a brilliant song lyrically, not by any stretch, but listen for the way Nash balances out the preciousness with his production skills. The piano sounds lost, as if it’s being played at the far side of a church. And yet his voice is right there, up close. A cello gradually drifts in, followed by a gloriously rounded Crosby-Nash harmony: ‘I just want to hold you/I don’t want to hold you down.’ When David Lindley’s violin comes in, taking over where the chorus left off, we’re only a minute into the song and we’re already here: above the earnestness of lyric, but genuinely feeling the ache of it now.

The same can be said about ‘Better Days,’ again about Nash’s break-up with Mitchell, but written while he was rebounding with Rita Coolidge (who would herself go on to record a version of the same song). Again, there’s the quiet, almost disconsolate opening passage, then the song gets gradually filled out. With a strum of a guitar, we’re suddenly couched in an After the Gold Rush atmosphere. Nash sounds like he’s standing on a cliff, hoping his hurt will carry all the way to Europe (‘You went to a strange land searching/ For a truth you felt was wrong’) An organ churns away, burying the vitriol while moving the song someplace airy and epic, almost McCartney-esque. This time it’s a bass clarinet solo (played by someone mysteriously credited as Sermon Posthumas) that delivers the catharsis.

Graham Nash :: Better Days

Nowhere on Joni Mitchell’s album is a break-up directly referred to (yes, she’s ‘strung out on another man’ in ‘California,’ and there’s some romantic ambivalence (‘I hate you some, I love you some’) on ‘All I Want’. However, there is a heartbroken-ness lurking somewhere in the background of every song on Blue. What Nash’s album does—among a great many other things—is give us another angle with which to approach Blue, and see not only what the central figure in Mitchell’s songs might have been running from, but what she left in her wake. words / dk o’hara

Jungle-Fire-TropicosoSince 2011, Los Angeles based Jungle Fire have been cementing their reputation with incendiary Afro/Latin/funk performances via gigs at small local clubs to sharing festival stages with the likes of Shuggie Otis and The Budos Band. Now, the rest of the world is about to get a taste thanks to their debut LP, Tropicoso, on Nacional Records.

Far from yet another run-of-the-mill retro funk band, Jungle Fire has set themselves apart by drawing on influences like Phirpo Y Sus Caribes, Ray Camacho & The Teardrops, Joe Bataan, and Nico Gomez. The multicultural musical union is one of the most exciting developments in what had become a very staid funk/soul scene. That exuberance and enthusiasm can be felt across the eleven tracks that make up Tropicoso.

After a short percussion intro, the album kicks off, appropriately enough, with “Comencemos (Let’s Start)”. Originally a Fela Kuti tune, Jungle Fire’s version is based on the cover by Phirpo Y Sus Caribes. Covers are hard enough to pull off. Covering a definitive version of a legendary song by a legendary artist seems, to me, an insurmountable task. Yet, Jungle Fire do it and do it well. “Firewalker” is a tune tailor made for the dancefloor. Fuzz guitar collides with four on the floor disco and Afro/Latin percussion to create one of the heaviest club tracks I’ve heard in years. Even on more subdued selections like the title track, “Tropicoso”, and “Snake Pit” the focus and energy never waiver.

With Tropicoso, Jungle Fire has accomplished the rare feat of releasing a debut record that lives up to the fire present in their live shows. words / c weaver

Jungle Fire :: Firewalker

aquariumdrunkard

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST. Our latest installment of Maison Dufrene aired today during hour two. Download it, HERE

SIRIUS 360: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Jack Nitzsche: The Lonely Surfer / Oscar Harris: Twinkle Stars Boo Galoo ++ Joe Bataan: Chick-a-boom ++ Jacques Dutronc: Les Cactus ++ The Shadows: Scotch On The Socks ++ Koldo: Disc Man ++ Vican Maneechot: Dance, Dance, Dance ++ Linda Van Dijck: Stengun ++ Carl Carlton: I Can Feel It / Janey & Dennis: Take It From A Friend ++ Donald Jenkins & The Delighters: Elephant Walk ++ Symphonic Four: Who Do You Think Youre Fooling ++ Milton Henry: Gypsy Woman ++ Lulu: Rattler ++ Monomono: Give The Beggar A Chance ++ Tony Joe White: Stud Spider / Lee Hazelwood: No Train To Stockholm ++ Marine Girls: Love To Know ++ Allen Toussaint: We The People ++ Nairobi Sisters: Promised Land ++ Ty Segall: Caesar ++ Harpers Bizarre: Witchi Tai To ++ Dirty Projectors: Swing Low Magellan / Gladys Knight & The Pips: Tracks Of My Tears ++ Doris Troy: Whatcha Gonna Do About It ++ The Olympics: Dooley ++ Bobbie Gentry: Somebody Like Me ++ Wuta Wazuri: Mondo Soul Funky ++ The Lijadu Sisters: Danger ++ Bobby Hebb: You Dont Know What You Got ++ The Kinks: Tell Me Now / Nancy Dupree: James Brown ++ James Brown: Taurus (interview) ++ Foxygen: Make It Known ++ Linda Brannon: Deep Inside Me ++ Al Stewart: Year Of The Cat ++ Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Swim And Sleep (like A Shark) ++ The Equals: Ooh That Kiss ++ The Orwells: In My Bed ++ Ananda Shankar: Jumpin Jack Flash ++ Del Shannon: Under My Thumb ++ Ariane: Tuvoudraisquejoublie ++ Witch: Like A Chicken ++ Bob Azzam & His Orchestra: The Last Time ++ Pill Wonder: Wishing Whale ++ Ramones: Dont Come Close ++ Tame Impala: Apocalypse Dreams ++ The Pretty Things: The Good Mr Square / Kyu Sakamoto: China Nights ++ Mike And Herb: Ive Been A Fool ++ Atons: Yellow Ribbon ++ The Oh Sees: Floods New Light ++ Jimmy Norman: Gangster Of Love ++ Wendell Stuart & The Downbeaters: Hey Jude / The Rollers: Knockin At The Wrong Door ++ Foxygen: Teenage Alien Blues (outro) ++ Peter Ivers: Miraculous Weekend ++ Bruce Langhorne – Opening ++ Lee Hazlewood – If It’s Monday Morning ++ Townes Van Zandt – Like A Summer Thursday ++ John Stewart – Willard ++ Jerry Jeff Walker – Mississippi You’re On My Mind ++ Terry Allen – Do They Dream Of Hell In Heaven ++ Bob Dylan, Booker T. & Bruce Langhorne – Billy ++ Bob Dylan – Thirsty Boots ++ James Talley – Give My Love To Marie ++ Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – With God On Our Side ++ Townes Van Zandt – My Proud Mountains ++ Bruce Langhorne – Ending

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.

__________________________________________________________________________________

cover

Nevermind Lifehouse — this is the Great Lost Who Album. Originally intended as a stopgap release between The Who Sell Out and Tommy, Who’s For Tennis was shelved in 1968. All of the tracks have been released in one form or another over the years, but the wonderful blog Albums That Never Were has pulled them all together in one handy package (with very groovy cover art to boot). It’s a crackling good time, highlighting Pete Townshend’s poppier sensibilities in such deep cuts as “Glow Girl,” “Dogs” and “Little Billy.” words / t wilcox

Get it HERE . . .

hiredOpening and closing out the third installment of Maison Dufrene are two slow-paced, brooding, psychedelic Americana tunes that may have left you scrapping for a source. If that is indeed the case, hopefully the following will clear things up.

Put frankly, Bruce Langhorne is a genius. Not only is he the namesake for Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” he also played his way around the Greenwich Village folk scene, worked with friends to compose the soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and single-handedly composed every element of the epic soundtrack to Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand.

Fonda’s classically forgotten anti-western – turned rediscovered cult masterpiece – was originally motivated by his desire to distance himself from Easy Rider stardom. Both critics and studios dismissed the film upon it’s initial release but, in the year’s since, it’s naturalistic visuals paired with experimental montage sequences and poetic slow-motion have left hard marks in the landscape of filmmaking. The Hired Hand takes a seat up there with greats like Badlands and Jeremiah Johnson.

But the cult success of The Hired Hand would be nowhere near as remarkable if not for Bruce Langhorne’s soundtrack. The multi-instrumentalist takes us down sparsely-traveled dirt roads and alongside creeks and groves with Peter Fonda and Warren Oates in the stirrups. He drenches the film in gritty banjo and fiddle and brings it all home with the lonesome echoes of native flutes. Langhorne’s score acts as a superb supporting character to an already stellar cast and is the icing on top of a masterwork that was once forgotten and currently garnering appreciation from every angle.

The Hired Hand is available on Collector’s Edition DVD and the soundtrack will make it’s second limited run on 180g vinyl on Scissor Tail Records on November 11. words / p dufrene

Bruce Langhorne :: Ending

Related: Maison Dufrene III :: Outlaws, Ramblers & Hired Hands (A Mixtape)

namericaThe steady hand of Canadian musicologist and curator Kevin “Sipreano” Howes has been present in many of Seattle-based label Light in the Attic’s key releases, but his newest project for the label, the mammoth collection Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985, is not only his most personal, but also one of the label’s most historically significant releases.

“I started seeking out Canadian Aboriginal recordings on vinyl around 15 years ago,” Howes explains. He pitched the idea of a collection covering native sounds to Light in the Attic, with whom he’s worked for a decade. With a firm go-ahead secured, Howes got to work. Though the music speaks for itself, Howes provides deep historical context for these songs, detailing the artists and their stories in a lavish 60-page book, drawing on interview sessions Howes conducted with the artists, photos, original LP and 45 artwork, and lyrics (with translations of the songs in Native languages). The book contains a full page of thanks, and Howes is quick to add, “Much love to the trailblazing artists who made this work possible!” each time he discusses the set.

“After I fell in love with the music, I had to learn more about these incredible artists,” Howes explains. “Unfortunately, academic texts and Canadian history/music books didn’t take me very far. Even the good old Internet was shooting blanks, but in my experience, going straight to the source is always the best.”

Some artists proved easier to find than others, Howes explains. “Legendary Métis singer-songwriter Willie Dunn wasn’t easy to get a hold of at first, but the Inuit rock band Sugluk from Salluit, Quebec (in the province’s Nunavik arctic region), were really challenging to contact. Some of the members didn’t have telephones, so I actually had to put out a message in Inuktitut over the northern community radio airwaves with the help of a local radio host.”

The musical breadth featured is nearly as vast as the geographic ground the collection covers, gathering folk rock, psychedelic grooves, country soul, and garage rock from distinct Indigenous cultures across Canada and Alaska. “All 36 songs blow my mind in one way or another,” Howes says. “They were often made for folks in their regional communities, but like musicians the world over, most were hoping that their songs would be able to reach as many people as possible.”
Not all of the music featured on the collection is obscure; some of the artists, like Sugluk, Sikumiut, and William Tagoona were recorded and broadcast nationally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Howes cites Willie Dunn’s “international acclaim.” But the collection also draws on regional and private-press releases. “Much of this music wasn’t heard outside of the greater Aboriginal music community at the time of release,” Howes says. “…this music was very much embraced on the reserves and in regional communities across the country, as well as gaining some traction in coffeehouses, dance halls, and the folk festival circuit.”

As such, Howes envisions the set as both a way to commemorate and catalog the work of Native artists (a second volume, featuring music from the United States’ lower 48 and Mexico, is already in the works), but also start a larger conversation about their importance and musical value. “I think it would be so cool if people out there had listening parties with their friends,” Howes says, “where they could share the experience together and talk about what they’ve heard and seen.”
Howes himself has already had the pleasure of sharing the set – with the creators responsible for the music it contains.

“It’s been great starting to share the compilation with the artists themselves. When revisiting music from the past, you are often bringing back the full range of emotions that went into its creation. These emotions can be both good and bad, but I want this to be a positive thing for everyone, a celebration! There is much joy in Native North America, but there is also deep pain and struggle. It was a massive honor for me to learn firsthand about this cultural and spiritual history.” words / j woodbury

Willie Dunn :: I Pity The Country

foxygen

Returning to a tack they’d previously embraced before achieving a measure of critical success, … And Star Power reorients Foxygen’s trajectory, without any regard for making a “follow-up.” In hindsight, 2011’s Take The Kids Off Broadway EP and 2013’s We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic were – in  Star Power’s wake – outliers within their discography.

Those two albums, by turns invigorating and confounding, were the most polished works Foxygen had released to date. They were, however, not debut albums. From 2005-2011, Foxygen made several EPs and at least one “album,” — only no one heard them. Kill Art and Ghettoplastikk are twenty-odd minute journeys through two teenage boys discovering themselves and their sound. They feature as many great, catchy tracks as they do maddening ones, and display an emerging confidence in their studio weirdness. “Jurrassic Exxplosion Philippic” is a 30-song “opera” that’s light on song length and lighter on concentration, but flashes a progressing prodigy. An EP in 2011, and various other tracks (and untold more stowed away on external hard drives) also punctuate what amounts to ten years of output.

Foxygen :: How Can You Really

kevin_morby

Late last year, after incessant touring among the ranks of his Alma mater acts Woods and The Babies, Kevin Morby released his solo debut – the stunning folk of Harlem River. On the self-proclaimed ‘homage to New York City,’ Morby transposed from supporting role to lead with a nonchalance often not found among even the most seasoned of songwriters. After relocating to the West Coast, it’s perhaps the changes both sonically and geographically that allowed Morby the necessary means to begin shaping the music he had always sought to make.

Speaking with Morby just a few days before the release of Still Life, a road worn collection of songs that weaves in and out of reality, his demeanor is much akin to his music, both kind and introspective. Having returned home just a day prior from a European trek, Morby spoke excitedly about learning to take music seriously, his introduction to psychedelic music, and his new found love of being a “solo artist.” Still Life is out now via Woodsist.

Aquarium Drunkard: You’re coming off a run of European Dates with Justin from the Babies. What was the response like this go around?

Kevin Morby: It was incredible. I’ve been telling a few people this but it’s the best tour I’ve ever been on, to be honest. Justin and I have played music together for a longtime and it’s always sort of been in a rock band environment; three to four people up on-stage, atypical rock bands…which is great and fun, but we did it as a two piece as a financial decision. So we could both get over there and both see money.

AD: Were you nervous at all about it being just the two of you?

Kevin Morby: We were nervous as shit about it at first, but it opened up a whole world that hadn’t been penetrated by me, or us, yet. Especially with the singer-songwriter thing because with it being just a two piece it was very quiet, Justin played with brushes. We both played at the front of the stage and kind of built this little environment with a lamp and a rug on stage. We played small clubs and it was really intimate. I got to play a large part of my catalog that we hadn’t approached yet because we were able to draw back a bit. It was almost like being in a new band. It was awesome.

AD: I’ve caught your set in a few different settings. Your songs keep the same weight and intensity regardless of the lineup. Are you thinking of this while writing?

Kevin Morby: It’s not something I think about a ton. I have no problem going into a studio and having a lot of bells and whistle knowing I won’t be able to demonstrate that live. One of the things I like about being a – quote on quote – solo artist is that (the music) can exist in a bunch of different ways.

There’s this live Lou Reed record that I’m obsessed with from ’72 and part of what I love about it is that he’s playing all these songs off of Transformer and stuff, these big songs. But it’s him with a four piece band, so all the horn parts they play as guitar solos and he does the back-up vocal oohs and aahs. I like that dynamic a lot.

Kevin Morby :: Parade